Director Tim Burton and the other folks behind "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" have gone out of their way to distance themselves and their film from 1971's "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," that other movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved novel.
For some, this new version might be a little too "out there." The material definitely plays to Burton's bizarre, sometimes macabre, sensibilities. And Johnny Depp's take on Wonka is definitely much creepier than Gene Wilder's prickly but considerably warmer portrayal.
Yet, in many respects, this inventive, delightful and visually rich fantasy is more faithful to Dahl's source material (especially in tone). And it's certainly one of the better summer movies for families (in fact, among other things, the film stresses the importance of family).
The title character is Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who co-starred with Depp in "Finding Neverland"). His father (Noah Taylor) has just been laid off his job at the toothpaste factory where he was paid to screw on the tops of the tubes. And now the Bucket family is struggling to make ends meet, living in poverty and squalor.
Meanwhile, young Charlie wants nothing more than to be one of the five lucky children who will get a tour of reclusive candymaker Willy Wonka's factory. Winners of the tour are chosen randomly, through "golden tickets" hidden in Wonka's chocolate bars.
Four tickets are found by the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), spoiled-rich Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), ultra-competitive Violet Beauregard (AnnaSophia Robb) and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), a video-game addict.
Charlie manages to get the last ticket and agrees to bring along his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly), who claims to have worked for Wonka back in the day.
Naturally, Charlie is very excited. But he's taken aback by their mysterious benefactor, Willy Wonka (Depp), who doesn't appear to care much for kids and seems to take delight in anything bad that happens to one of them.
Obviously, this film's biggest departure is in the character of Willy Wonka. Depp's interpretation was apparently inspired by Michael Jackson and Depp's earlier Tim Burton character, Edward Scissorhands. At first, it's a little off-putting, though Wonka's one-liners are among the film's highlights.
Unlike the Anthony Newley songs from the earlier film version, Danny Elfman's songs performed in styles as varied as 1960s psychedelia and heavy metal use lyrics that were actually penned by Dahl. (The water-ballet during Augustus' "departure" number is also a nice touch.)
Burton makes good use of his terrific cast. Sad-faced Highmore is perfect as Charlie, and you'll slowly warm to Depp's peculiar Wonka as the film goes along. (Burton and screenwriter John August smartly flesh out the character, with flashback sequences featuring Christopher Lee as Willy's strict father, a dentist.)
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is rated PG for some slapstick violence (including a goofy animal "attack" and some videogame violence), some crude humor (including one suggestive reference) and scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based). Running time: 110 minutes.